If asked to identify three attributes of the American character that were most responsible for its settlement and growth as a nation, I would, without hesitation list them as, opinionated, independent and self-reliant. It was these attributes that resulted in more than nine hundred religious denominations, the conquest of the wilderness and the spread of pioneers from coast to coast.
Colonists, regardless of their nation of origin, when they settled in one of the English colonies they became beneficiaries of the long struggle for liberty by the English people. By charter, they enjoyed all the privileges and liberties of English citizens:
“… All and every the Persons being our Subjects, which shall dwell and inhabit within every or any of the said several Colonies and Plantations, and every of their children, which shall happen to be born within any of the Limits and Precincts of the said several Colonies and Plantations, shall HAVE and enjoy all Liberties, Franchises, and Immunities, within any of our other Dominions, to all Intents and Purposes, as if they had been abiding and born, within this our Realm of England, or any other of our said Dominions…” (Virginia charter of 1606)
That meant they enjoyed the protections of the Magna Carta, The English Constitution, The English Bill of Rights, and English Common Law. Although each colony had a slightly different civic structure, they all consisted of a governor, council, and assembly. The Governor may be appointed by the King, by shareholders of the corporation, or the proprietors of the charter. Some governors had near dictatorial powers; however, they had to be careful how they used them. More than one Governor was forced by citizens to return to England when they abused their power.
The councils varied in size and may have had legislative or veto powers, or their power may have been limited to only advising the governor. The assemblies were elected by the landowners or “freemen” of the colony. It was the assembly where legislation originated and tax laws were written. The assembly was the representative of the people and it alone had the power of the purse. One of the ways the people kept control over the governor was to refuse to pay him until he agreed to their demands. Sometimes this required the governor to disregard a direct order given him by the proprietor of the charter or his superiors in England.
Over time, two fundamental principles of government were developed and jealously guarded by the colonists. First, citizens were to be subject only to laws enacted by representatives of their own choosing. Second, no tax could be levied without the approval of the people’s assembly. In Connecticut, one of the two or three colonies who elected their own governors, the administrative functions of government was under the control of the General Court whose members consisted of the governor, and a number of deputies chosen by the towns.
“…It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield shall have power, each Town, to send four of their Freemen as their deputies to every General Court; and Whatsoever other Town shall be hereafter added to this Jurisdiction, they shall send so many deputies as the Court shall judge meet, a reasonable proportion to the number of Freemen that are in the said Towns being to be attended therein; which deputies shall have the power of the whole Town to give their votes and allowance to all such laws and orders as may be for the public good, and unto which the said Towns are to be bound…” “…In which said General Courts shall consist the supreme power of the Common-wealth, and they only shall have power to make laws or repeal them, to grant levies, to admit of Freemen, dispose of lands undisposed of, to several Towns or persons, and also shall have power to call either Court or Magistrate or any other person whatsoever into question for any misdemeanor, and may for just causes displace or deal otherwise according to the nature of the offense…” ~~Fundamental Orders of 1639
The Pilgrim Code of Law of 1636 contained similar language:
“…as freeborn subjects of the state of England, we hither came endowed with all and singular the privileges belonging to such, in the first place we think good that it be established for an act that, according to the … and due privileges of the subject aforesaid, no imposi-tion, law, or ordinance be made or imposed upon us by ourselves or others at present or to come but such as shall be made or imposed upon us by consent, according to the free liberties of the state and kingdom of England and no otherwise…”
This doctrine of representative government, or “self-government”, severely limited the Authority of the British Parliament. Since the colonies had no representation in Parliament, its laws, as far as the colonies were concerned, were generally limited to matters of commerce or trade. When in the middle of the eighteenth century Parliament began to legislate internal matters and levy internal taxes, the colonies took exception and set in motion the events leading up to the Revolution and Independence.
The French and Indian War began in 1754 as a dispute over the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, now the site of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. In 1756, it erupted into a worldwide conflict known in Europe as the “Seven Years War”. The conduct of the war drained the treasury of England, leaving it with a national debt of more than 144 million pounds at the end of the war in 1763. It was felt in London that the colonies should bear some expenses of the war since it was fought primarily in America over American soil.
During and after the French and Indian War England passed a number of proclamations and Acts that strained the relationship between the colonies and the motherland, because they violated the two principles of representative government and taxation without representation.
Proclamation of 1763
One of the problems faced by England after the Seven Years War was to restore relations with the Indians who sided with the French during the War. The Indians were unhappy with England’s occupation of the territories west of the Alleghenies previously claimed by France. In order to placate them and modify the damage caused by Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763-1764), King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763 that forbad English settlement in the western territories and required those settlers already there to return to within former territorial boundaries. This policy created several problems. One was the fact that some of the original charters, like Virginia and Pennsylvania, without realizing at the time the extent of the American continent, awarded the lands west of the specific territory granted, to the holders of the charter; in effect, granting all the land between the colony and the Pacific Ocean to the charter recipients.
Another problem was that a large number of settlers were already in the territory, particularly in western Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. This proclamation was greatly resented by the colonists and created a serious breach in the relations between England and the people of the colonies. The tension over these territories would be further aggravated by the Quebec Act of 1774.
The Sugar Act of 1764
The Sugar Act, officially titled as the American Revenue Act of 1764 was intended as a revision of the Sugar and Molasses act of 1733 which was mostly ignored by the colonies, choosing to buy smuggled goods instead. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Grenville, was trying to bring the colonies in line with regard to payment of taxes, which were sorely needed because of the English national debt.
Grenville also took steps to enforce payment of the taxes. He beefed up naval presence along the coast and instructed them to become more active in customs enforcement. At the same time, Parliament decided to make some major adjustments in trade policy. A number of other goods were added to those already taxed, including sugar, wine, coffee, pimiento, cambric and printed calico. The Act also increased regulations on the export of lumber and iron. The immediate effect was a disruption of the colonial economy by reducing the markets to which they could sell, and the amount of currency available to them for the purchase of British manufactured goods.
The Currency Act
That same year, Parliament passed the Currency Act, effectively taking control of the colonies monetary system. There was no gold or silver to be mined in the colonies, and because of the shortage of currency for carrying on trade, banks began to issue bills of credit based on the value of mortgaged property. The notes issued by various banks carried different values and some could not be used as legal tender for debts. Another problem was that the underlying value of notes could fluctuate from time to time.
English traders and merchants were wary of accepting colonial currency in payment for goods sold. They convinced Parliament to pass the Currency Act which prohibited the issuance of any new bills and the reissue of existing currency. Parliament favored a hard currency based on the pound sterling, but rather than getting involved in regulating colonial currency they simply abolished it. The Currency Act also established a superior Admiralty Court for the trial of those suspected of smuggling or customs violations.
The Stamp Act
The Stamp Act, passed by Parliament in February 1765 was the first serious effort by Parliament to establish control over the colonies. The Act placed a tax on all business transactions involving any type of printed material, including legal forms, receipts, bills of sale, playing cards, dice, etc. The tax varied from a few pence to several pounds depending on the item. For example:
“For every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which shall be engrossed, written, or printed, any declaration, plea, replication, rejoinder, demurrer or other pleading, or any copy thereof; in any court of law within the British colonies and plantations in America, a stamp duty of three pence.” “For every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which any grant, of any liberty, privilege, or franchise, under the seal or sign manual of any governor, proprietor, or public officer, alone, or in conjunction with any other person or persons, or with any council, or any council and assembly, or any exemplification of the same, shall be engrossed, written, or printed, within the said colonies and plantations, a stamp duty of six pounds.”
The tax on a deck of playing cards was only one shilling, compared to a tax of ten shilling on a pair of dice. Obviously, the MPs were either more fond of poker or they believed craps to be more popular in the colonies. Opposition and demonstrations in the colonies was so pronounced that the act was repealed in less than a year.
“WHEREAS an act was passed in the last session of parliament, entitled, An act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same; … and whereas the continuance of the said act would be attended with many inconveniences, and may be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these kingdoms; …that from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty six, the above-mentioned act, and the several matters and things therein contained, shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.” ~~excerpt from the act of repeal- 1766 (emphasis added)
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Philosophy of Evil Socialism in America
"The struggle of History is not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is between government and the governed."